Shirk consists of two types: Major and minor. As for major shirk, it occurs when associating something with Allah as an equal and worshipping it along with Him. This sends the person outside the fold of Islam and destroys whatever good deeds that he might have done in the previously. Additionally, whoever dies in such a situation will abide permanently in the Hellfire, where he will live forever and the punishment will never be reduced. Major shirk is divided into four types:

  1. Shirk in connection with supplication. Supplication is a high form or worship in Islam. In fact, it is the very core of worship, according to a statement of the Prophet,

“Supplication is worship.”[1]

Allah says,

“Your Lord says, ‘Call on Me and I will answer you; those who are too proud to serve Me will enter Hell humiliated.’” (Q, 40:60)

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Since supplication is an act of worship, directing it to anyone other than Allah is shirk. Accordingly, whoever invokes a Prophet, and angel, a righteous person, a tomb, a stone, or any other created thing, then he has become a polytheist and a disbeliever. Allah says,

“Whoever invokes besides Allah another deity for which he has no proof, then his account is only with his Lord. Indeed, the disbelievers will not succeed.” (Q, 23:117)

Supplication being an act of worship, and offering it to another is an act of shirk is further evidenced with by the following verse,

“When they embark on a ship, they invoke Allah, having their faith purely in Him. But when He saves them (and brings them) to the land, in no time they start committing shirk.” (Q, 29:65)

Here Allah states that the polytheists associate partners with Him only in states of well-being, but worship Him alone when they are in difficulty and trying times. Now imagine the case of a person who associates others with Allah, whether he lives in affluence or he is in distress.

  1. Shirk of intention or volition. This happens when a person’s intentions for performing his acts of worship are purely material or for showing off, as is done by people with hypocrisy, and aims to gain neither Allah’s pleasure nor the blessings of the hereafter. Such a person has committed major shirk. Allah says,

“Whoever desires the life of this world and its adornments, We repay them fully in it for their deeds, and they will not be deprived in it. They are those for whom there is nothing in the Hereafter but Fire. Vain are the deeds that they did therein, and of no effect is that which they used to do.” (Q, 11:15-6)

This type of shirk is very critical and dangerous.

  1. Shirk in obedience. Whoever obeys any of Allah’s creation, whether it is one in making lawful what He has prohibited or making prohibited what He has made lawful, then he has taken those whom he obeys as other gods besides Allah. Therefore, he has committed major shirk., provided that he believes in such people’s right to allow or forbid such things either for him or for any other, even when he knows that their judgment in this regard goes against the teachings of Islam. Allah says,

“They have taken their rabbis and their monks as lords besides Allah, and the Messiah, the son of Maryam. They were not commanded except to worship one God; there is no deity except Him. Exalted is He above whatever they associate with Him.” (Q, 9:31)

This verse reveals that obeying their scholars and monks, and not just invoking them, is the subject matter here. Thus, when ‘Adiyy b. Ḥātim, who used to be Christian before Islam, remarked, “We never worshipped them,” the Prophet explained to him that their compliance with the orders of those religious leaders, which happened to be the negation of Allah’s commands, is in fact their worshipping of them. He said,

“Is it not true that they forbid what Allah has permitted and permit that which He has forbidden, and you follow them in both?”

‘Adiyy answered in the affirmative. The Prophet then said,

“That is how you worshipped them.”[2]

  1. Shirk in love. This refers to love in conjunction with servitude, and usually necessitates glorification, exaltation, humility, and submission to the beloved. This kind of love is due to Allah alone, and whoever offers it to another has committed major shirk. The proof for this is found in the following verse,

“Among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals to Him. They love them as they should love Allah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah.” (Q, 2:165)

As for minor shirk, it is either a means for major shirk or any act or statement that has been branded as shirk in the religious texts but falls short of the standard of major shirk. The rule concerning one who indulges in minor shirk is the same as one who perpetrates a capital offense in Islam, whose fate will only be decided in the hereafter according to Allah’s volition. The following are some examples of minor shirk,

  1. Minimal showing off. According to a narration recorded by Imām Aḥmad and others,

“The Prophet once addressed his Companions and said, ‘What I fear most for you is that you commit minor shirk.’ The Companions asked, ‘Allah’s Messenger, what is minor shirk?’ He said, ‘Showing off. Allah will say on the Day of Judgment after recompensing humanity for their deeds, “Go to those whom you would have liked to see you and praise for whatever good you performed while you were alive, and see if they can obtain any reward for you.”’”[3]

  1. Saying, “What Allah and you will.” Concerning this Abū Dāwūd recorded that Allah’s Messenger said,

“Never say, ‘What Allah and so-and-so wills,’ but say, ‘What Allah wills, and then what so-and-so wills.’”[4]

  1. Saying statements such as, “But for Allah’s and so-and-so person’s intervention, this or that would have happened,” or, “But for the presence of the such and such, the thieves would have gained entrance into the house,” as statements of a similar sort. Ibn Abī Ḥātim relates that ibn ‘Abbās commented on the verse,

“So do not attribute equal to Allah while you know.” (Q, 2:22)

He said, “This equals an act of shirk, which is more inconspicuous than the creeping of an black ant on a black rock in the blackest of night. It is to say, ‘By Allah, by your life, so-and-so, and mine,’ or, ‘Had there not been the duck or the small dog of this or that person in the house, then the thieves would have gained entrance.’ Or that a person says to others, ‘If Allah and you will.’ Of the expression, ‘But for the intervention of Allah and such-and-such person, this or that would have happened.’ You should not mention any other person in these cases, for doing so is an act of shirk.”

If we look at the difference between major and minor shirk, we will see that the two are different from each other in many ways, the most important of which are the following:

  • Major shirk is an unforgivable sin if the one who falls into it does not repent before death. As for minor shirk, then the one who falls into it, whether he repents of not, may be forgiven for it if Allah wills.
  • No previous act of worship will be valid one a person engages in major shirk. However, minor shirk, only invalidates the act with which it occurs.
  • The one who falls into minor shirk still remains within the folds of Islam, while the one who falls in major shirk becomes a non-Muslim.
  • Major shirk qualifies the one who falls into it to remain permanently in the Hellfire, and Paradise will forever be forbidden for him. However, minor shirk is considered as any other sin and does not carry the same punishment.

[1] Tirmidhī no. 3372.

[2] See Tirmidhī no. 3095.

[3] Aḥmad 5/428.

[4] Abū Dāwūd no. 4980.

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